Can a JMO Prepare Too Much for Interviewing?

Interviewing has evolved since Roger Cameron first taught JMOs how to succeed in a competency-based/behavioral interview where recruiters conduct a formal interview asking a prepared list of interview questions.  Today, most interviews are conducted in a conversational style where recruiters engage in a two-way dialogue with the candidate.  Recruiters tell me they do this because they want to see the “real” person, determine the candidate’s interpersonal fit and also hear the competencies and abilities to do the position.  This does mean the conversational interview will include competency-based interview questions injected into the conversation.  This style of interview now poses the questions:  Can and should you prepare for a conversational interview?  If you rehearse too much will you be canned or robotic?

With my 15 years of experience and over 75 Career Conferences, my answer to the first question, “Can and should you prepare for a conversational interview?” is an emphatic YES.

To support my answer, please go back to high school math with me.  Do you recall Algebra, Geometry and Calculus?  Do you recall saying to yourself or for that matter complaining to the teacher and anyone else, “When am I ever going to use this?”  Well, you probably have not used a lot of the functional knowledge you learned, but those math classes taught you and wired your brain to think critically, break down problems, consider options, and be a better problem solver.

Preparing for commonly asked interview questions is a lot like math.  You are not only preparing to answer questions, but you are really learning the essence of good business communication.  Companies hire from Cameron-Brooks for potential, and communication skills are critical to moving to higher levels of responsibility.  Thus it is critical during an interview for you to frame up points and support them succinctly and in a way that is easy for a recruiter to understand and imagine you being a leader in their organization.

Developing answers to commonly asked interview questions prepares you to be an effective communicator, not just in an interview, but also in the military and your future business career.  Like some of your math problems, you may not use the exact answers you develop for interviewing, but you will be a much better interviewer and communicator if you do.  I highly recommend the following steps:

1. Read PCS to Corporate America 4th Ed.  I know that as one the co-authors of the book, this sounds like a plug, but it lists commonly asked interview questions for JMOs and also provides insight into why recruiters ask them and a framework to answer them.  A little research goes a long way!

2.  Write out your answers in long form as the way you would say them.  Review and edit them a few times until you are satisfied with the content.

3.  Using your written answers as a “crutch,” practice delivering them, but not reading them.

4.  Move to bullets.  Take your written answers and put them in bullet form now and continue to practice verbalizing in front of a mirror or in a recording device so you can critique yourself.  You can also use a study group partner.

5.  Without notes, deliver your answers into a recording device and to other people to critique your answers and be more comfortable and fluid.

My answer to the second question, “If you rehearse too much will you be canned or robotic?”  My answer here is an emphatic NO.  Being canned or robotic is not a function of being well prepared or knowing your answers inside and out.  Candidates deliver canned and robotic answers when they deliver the answers they prepared ahead of time without any thought to the following:  1) The question and emphasis put on certain words by a recruiter; 2) The position for which the candidate is interviewing; and, 3) The body language and other signals from the recruiter.  A canned answer is when the recruiter asks the question, and the candidate delivers a memorized prepared answer regardless of any of those factors.  Rarely will someone deliver a fully prepared answer in an interview because of these nuances.  The essence of good communication is listening, understanding the context, reflecting on what you want to say, and making points bottom line up front, succinctly and supported with specific details that only relate to the question.  To do this, however, like math, you have to have the basics down and have practiced the concepts ahead of time.

It is difficult to fully simulate a conversational interview.  Only by mastering these fundamentals and through work and other opportunities to engage in conversation with others, evaluate how you did in communicating and identify areas where you can communicate and listen more effectively.

So, yes, prepare for the conversational interview and rehearse, and by all means be yourself in the interview and deliver genuine answers with a professional communication style.

Joel Junker